Seattle’s The Shanghai Pearl, known as the Tantalizing Temptress from Taipei, talks BurlyCon, cultural appropriation, advice for loving yourself, costuming, and the PNW Glitter PAC.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You’re on the Board of Directors for BurlyCon, happening November 1-4 in Seattle. You’re the Guest of Honor Liaison for this year’s convention as well. Can you tell us about the preparation that’s gone into this year’s event and your roles on the Board and as a liaison?
A: BurlyCon would not happen without the vision of Miss Indigo Blue and a truly amazing group of volunteers. Over fifty volunteers work all year round planning and executing BurlyCon weekend. The love (and learningfest) that ensues is so worth it. This year’s BurlyCon takes place November 1-4 and next year’s Burlycon will take place from November 7-10.
One of my biggest jobs on the board is to help make sure that we as an organization are always working to serve our community at large. My official title is Director of Arts and Culture. My job description is pretty long but one my most important tasks staying abreast of the culture in Burlesque and other art communities to help us stay responsible and relevant.
As Guest of Honor Liaison I get to make sure our guests of honor are taken care of and happy. My focus is usually on our Living Legend Guest of Honor (In the past years we’ve had Toni Elling, Marinka and Ellion Ness. This year we are so excited to host Lottie the Body.) I spend a lot of time corresponding with our amazing living legend guest of honor to help them plan out their classes. During the weekend I accompany them to their classes and make sure they have all they need.
Q: You’re moderating a panel at BurlyCon called, “Race, Ethnicity and Color in Burlesque,” and discussion topics include “cultural appropriation tokenism” and “the Highlander Syndrome.” Do you care to touch briefly on either of these topics and how they relate to burlesque?
A: Sure! The Cultural Appropriation conversation has been happening for years and is a pretty big topic. So I’m not sure I can touch on it briefly. :)
I delved into this topic pretty deeply earlier this year. Not sure if you had a chance to read them already, but in case you haven’t- here is my note on the topic as well as the interview I did on Racialicious (with Chicava Honeychild and the ladies of Brown Girl Burlesque).
I think that a very important as performers, artists, media makers of any kind is to consider not only our intention but also our impact.
My note on the topic:
My original intention was to have one post with my experience and feelings surrounding Dita Von Teese’s Opium Den act and provide resources for anyone that wanted to read about why, but given the direction of the ensuing dialogue, I feel the need to expound and clarify.
First of all, I am not attacking Dita or the Strip Strip Hooray! Show. She has done a tremendous amount of good for burlesque and women in pop culture. I admire her greatly for the work she has done and the reach she has as an entertainer and businesswoman.
I am also not saying anyone should be offended or is a bad person for enjoying the act.
What I am saying is that I was affected negatively by the act and that I am not alone.
I was uncomfortable watching a white woman invoking two dimensional stereotypes of Asian women to convey the message of sex. Opium is also the subject of two vicious wars perpetrated against China and its people. In addition, many of the harmful stereotypes that still exist today stem from this terrible time in China’s history.
I have spent most of my life defending my three dimensional humanity and sexuality against these stereotypes. It is painful to see those stereotypes casually worn as a costume by someone who has not had those specific experiences.
I would have loved to have been able to enjoy the finale as much as the rest of the show.
But that’s not the point.
The problem is larger than my experience, Dita, or burlesque. The problem is the subtle and complex ways in which institutionalized racism pervades our everyday lives. It has everything to do with society, history, culture, pop culture, power, privilege, and responsibility.
My experience of offense and my choice of relatively neutral action is considered ‘unpopular’. My desire to ask questions, raise awareness, and provide resources has caused incendiary and polarizing commentary. These are symptoms of that larger problem.
And it will never get better if we don’t talk about it.
The Strip Strip Hooray show is spectacular and revolutionary in so many different and wonderful ways. However, I was stunned that the finale was an act that perpetuates harmful and negative stereotypes of Asian women. It was very incongruous with the rest of the show.
It would seem that throughout the conception of the act, all the tour planning, and all the press, not one person considered the possibility that the material could be insensitive, harmful, or offensive.
Dita herself has stated that she smoked opium in researching this act. Then, didn’t the first and second Opium Wars come up in her research? Wouldn’t this be clearly loaded territory?
Her reach and power as a prominent member of pop culture is exactly why this needs to be addressed.
A few ripples to consider:
- The casual burlesque audience thinking that the best in the best of burlesque is an outdated orientalist act.
- The casual showgoer thinking that burlesque is irrelevant and not a legitimate artform because of the outdated or culturally insensitive material.
- An audience member that finds burlesque uncomfortable and/or disempowering.
- The audience member who already harbors negative Asian stereotypes and watches it glorified and reinforced.
- Fans and followers thinking that cultural appropriation is not only acceptable, but popular, trendy, and fashionable.
It’s these considerations that seem to be missing entirely. This kind of consideration is a responsibility we have to each other as humans, especially when you are in a position of power.
Yes, there is value to classic burlesque, challenging art, and nostalgia, but there is also value to progress. Burlesque has come a long way. We can do better.
I am not saying artists should not tackle controversial or challenging subjects. However, If we choose to take on challenging material, we should be prepared to have challenging conversations. I absolutely believe that art will not suffer from sensitivity. Sensitivity should make us work harder, research more, and think more. Art can only benefit from that.
We could do well to be more sensitive and aware of our individual privileges and other people’s experiences. It is not only our responsibility to one another, but common courtesy to consider others in our actions.
There are many damaging stereotypes and behaviors that used to be widely acceptable and now thankfully, no longer have a positive presence in mainstream thinking. This change is due to people asking speaking up, taking action, and raising awareness.
Regarding choice, one of the reasons Burlesque is so empowering and potent is choice. We serve as our own directors and we choose the stories we tell. That sort of agency with our sexuality and bodies is rare and powerful.
I don’t have a choice in my sex and my race. I don’t get to choose the complex and rich human histories that precede me. I certainly don’t have a choice in how and why sexism and racism is so institutionalized in our society. Examples of racism are sometimes overt, clear, and tragic. Often however, they are subtle, complex, and challenging.
What I do have a choice in is when I see a symptom of this larger problem, I can choose to act or not to act. I can choose to speak up or stay silent.
Silence is the only choice that will keep us from doing better.
Again, if you are interested in the what’s and why’s such an act can harm, here’s some reading for you:
Here are some recent news items and blogs on this topic:
I love Jay Smooth’s take on talking race:
Video and photos of the act in question:
Here is the racialicious article:
Q: I was reading a past interview of yours and saw that like many other performers that I’ve interviewed, you’ve mentioned that somehow by accident your involvement in burlesque has simultaneously helped you grow a love for yourself as well as your body, which you’ve stated you didn’t always love. Do you have any advice for gals out there who are struggling with loving their “soft, curvy and juicy body” as you put it?
A: Ha! It’s just going to get softer and curvier over here as it’s just become very wintery over here and my body wants all the carbs and all the sweets!
Here’s the advice I would give:
- Be gentle with yourself and LOVE YOURSELF. I think that’s one of our most important jobs as humans, to love ourselves and each other.
- Be open to the possibility that all the negativity, self loathing, shame, hate, etc is a product of billions upon billions of dollars of propaganda (and an extremely unhealthy society) and is not your authentic, true self talking.
- I would ask ‘How is this self loathing, shaming, hate, negativity serving you?”
I would also echo the advice of World Famous BOB who says “If you find yourself on a negative train and can’t get yourself over to the positive train, at least try to get to a neutral space.’
Q: Let’s talk the development of Shanghai Pearl. You were a painter and theater major, and if I’m not mistaken, your first burlesque show as an audience member was Tease-O-Rama 2002 in San Francisco. You graduated from Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque in 2006 and you began interning at the Academy during your first year as a performer. You interned and assisted for years and you’re now a lead instructor at the Academy. Like many of us, you became obsessed from day one, but you’ve stated that you were “full-time from the very beginning” and that burlesque immediately “took over [your] life.” Can you describe the whirlwind that it must have been to go from being an audience member to full-time burlesquer seemingly immediately? What a story!
A: Actually, the whirlwind happened my first year attending the Academy of Burlesque. For a few years I was very happy being in the audience. After a few years of regularly attending burlesque shows, I started to notice that I rarely saw any performers of color and I wanted to find out why that was. So I originally signed up for the course to explore that, I had no intentions of becoming a burlesque performer myself.
Throughout that first year, several things just ‘clicked’ and it really just took over my life. It’s definitely been a whirlwind ever since.
My first few years I had some pretty extraordinary moments where not only did I have a chance to meet some of my burlesque idols, I got to take classes from them, and then before you know it I would be sharing a backstage with them! It was a truly amazing and special experience.
I feel extremely lucky to have the life I have. The choices I have, the places I have been, the people I have met through Burlesque are nothing short of amazing.
Q: You have years of experience as a costumer, even prior to your burlesque career, and you’ve said that you’re “not a trained seamstress” and that you were and still are “very D.I.Y.” Please share with us your pre-burlesque costuming experience. Regarding burlesque, have you always and do you still make all of your own costumes, or do you ever commission items from others? What has been the most challenging costuming undertaking you’ve tackled thus far?
A: My costuming experience pre-burlesque was limited to going to thrift stores religiously to dig around for oddities and treasures to deconstruct and reinvent them. In high school I used to make costumes for concerts (fairy costumes for Tori Amos concerts and punky/gothy outfits for The Cure).
I have always designed all of my costumes, but the meticulous math behind patternmaking is not one of my strengths. Usually I’ll plan out a new costume and if an article is too difficult for me to find or make I will commission work. I have worked with extremely talented local designers including Danial Hellman, Jamie Von Stratton, Esther Garcia, and Jady at Steamtropolis.com.
Hmm, most challenging undertaking? The first thing that comes to mind is my most recent headdress. I had a lot of fun working out some of the technical details (positioning, distribution of weight). It’s quite large and features many delicate details. I spent a considerable amount of time working out how to stay true to my design while protecting the delicate decorations and keeping it comfortable to wear.
Q: I read an interview from Northwest Asian Weekly from 2010 in which you spoke about a common issue with some performers – the difficulty of sharing your performance career with your family. As of that interview, you stated that you hadn’t told your mom much except that you were in theater because you didn’t think she would “get it” and how she hadn’t been to a show but you were hoping to one day change that. I was wondering – does your mom know more now than she did? Has she been to a show yet?
A: It is hard to talk about. This particular kind of embodied, empowered, sexy lady love is not really a part of traditional Asian lifestyle or even language for that matter. My blood family is also quite old fashioned and along with that come some very outdated notions of women’s roles and narratives of success. I think that is a pretty common theme among immigrant families. Immigrants are occupied with survival and fitting in, the last thing on your mind is choice and empowerment.
My mom might know more than she did five years ago (she does have internet access and I don’t hide what I’m doing in the world) but I wouldn’t know about it. It’s not something we talk about. I took her to a pretty tame cabaret (it was mostly cabaret and acrobatics with a little burlesque) show once and she wasn’t particularly excited by it. So I don’t push it.
I think that on some level she is happy that that I am happy, but my impression is she’d be over the moon to see me married with children.
Q: I’ve read a little about your Pacific Northwest Glitter Political Action Committee and I’d love to hear more. Can you tell me a little more about the committee and its mission?
A: The PNW Glitter PAC is made of up of smart, socially conscious artists that want to make a difference and raise money for causes we believe in and politicians that have our interests at heart. There’s no reason why artists can’t be as powerful and effective as some of the irresponsible businesses and corporations out there. The difference in tax bracket and capital will just have to be made up by some extra organization of our smarts and sass. Over the summer we raised over $4500 for the Obama re-election campaign.
PNW Glitter PAC: Pacific Northwest Artists, Freaks, and Radicals organizing to make a difference.
Q: What’s next for Shanghai Pearl?
A: I am starting to plot out a busy 2013. I travel widely to perform and teach and currently I have plans to hop around the West Coast early next year and the East Coast in the Spring.
I am also very excited that to have just completed my new website: www.theshanghaipearl.com
Siren Santina, The Southern Songbird from Knoxville, Tennessee and Queen of the 2011 Southern Fried Burlesque Festival talks Salomé Cabaret, topless yodeling, the burlesque festival circuit, European burlesque aesthetics, and creative costuming.
Interview: Divertida Devotchka
Q: You’re the co-founder and creative director of Salomé Cabaret. Would you tell our readers more about its creation and evolution over the years?
A: I founded Salomé Cabaret in 2008 with three of my best friends. All of us had been performing in the local burlesque scene and were looking to incorporate some of our other performance interests in our art form. By founding a “cabaret” rather than a burlesque-specific collective we were able to include more variety in our productions, highlighting the non-strip-teasing skills of our friends and cast-mates. Over time we began blending some of these unrelated talents into our burlesque repertoire, creating a kind of hybrid half-naked talent show. The result is a rather unique aesthetic with striptease acts containing puppets, tap-dancing, historical re-enactments, instrumental performance, hula-hooping, stage combat, singing, and biblical parody (just to name a few). The flavor changes as we collaborate with new artists and pick up new skills. Our base mission is to let performers be themselves on stage, and not restrict them with any preconceived notions of what burlesque should be. We have troupe members whose aesthetic is very traditional and we have performers that make pasties out of roast beef sandwiches. We accept and love them all just the same. Ours is an equal-opportunity stage.
Q: According to an article I read, you majored in music in college? Or was it voice? You performed opera and you also did musical theater, correct? These skills translated well into your burlesque career, didn’t they? I mean, it almost seems a no brainer! Was it ever challenging adapting those skills into burlesque performance?
A: I studied vocal performance and music education at the University of Tennessee School of Music. It was a definite adjustment moving to burlesque from an art-form with a tradition that is centuries old. Coming from a world with a historically-based definition of the “right” and “wrong” way to perform it took me some time to adjust to the idea of having complete and total creative freedom. I do try to incorporate my training into my performance and I often sing while I striptease. I try to be very careful in how and when I include vocal performance in an act, always aiming for it to be organic and purposeful. I never sing in a burlesque routine just for the sake of singing. The addition of vocals is always an intentional character choice or storytelling tool that enhances the concept of the act. Building my musical numbers around character has provided me with the opportunity to sing many different styles of music that would have been unavailable to me previously in my traditional performance outlets. I’ve stripped while belting out opera arias, classic torch songs, show tunes, and rock anthems. I’ve done topless yodeling and even arranged music for a “boob bell” choir. If my professors could see me now they would be either very proud… or very confused.
Q: You’ve remained remarkably busy in the national burlesque festival circuit. Care to recap some of the festivals you’ve done and share some of your favorite festival memories with our readers?
A: I LOVE burlesque festivals and in the past couple of years I’ve been to a bunch of them. Highlights include performances at The Colorado Burlesque Festival, Southern Fried Burlesque Fest, The Alabama Burlesque Festival, The New Orleans Burlesque Festival, and The Burlesque Hall of Fame Weekend (in 2011’s Movers, Shakers, and Innovators Showcase). I love seeing inspiring performances and making friends with kindred spirits from all around the world. The legends Q&A panel at BHoF is always the highlight of my Las Vegas trips. I was shocked at the 2009 panel to look over at my boyfriend and find him in tears. He looked back at me and said, “These women have led such amazing lives.” It was a very poignant moment for me, a highlight of my burlesque experience. To know that these legends have a story and a presence that can impact a relative outsider to the burlesque scene so strongly only reinforced my admiration for them.
Q: You recently made your international debut at London’s World Burlesque Games, and you said in a Q & A shortly after that it was “was very interesting to see the aesthetic variances—you could see how the performers’ cultures influenced their performances.” I would love for you to elaborate on the aesthetic variances that you saw as compared to the aesthetic that you would see at the average national festival here in the States.
A: The most obvious difference to me, perhaps as a musician, was the European preference to perform to multiple pieces of music in one act. The majority of performers I saw had a relatively “normal” length of time on stage (four to six minutes), but in that time they danced to three or four short snippets of songs. This worked to some performers’ advantage, allowing them to build upon their concept with each change of music. In other cases where the songs were less-related in theme it was a little jarring, but afforded performers the opportunity to display multiple styles of burlesque dancing in one act. There is also a strong aesthetic leaning towards vaudeville and variety, with many performers exhibiting additional talents in their acts. My final observation is something more difficult to describe. I want to say that the European performers displayed a more “reserved” type of sexuality, but I don’t think that is really the case. There was just as much skin on display. There were just as many sexually-driven movements. SOMETHING was just very slightly different. It was more coy, more modest somehow. Whatever this small difference was, I liked it. The dichotomy of simultaneous reservation and abandon was very effective. It was very Gypsy Rose Lee.
Q: Tennessee legend Dolly Parton is an inspiration of yours, specifically your “passion for music and large breasts.” I too am a Dolly fan (okay, and a breast fan!) but could you tell us anything more about your love for Dolly?
A: I wasn’t always a Dolly Parton fan. Growing up in Sevier County (Dolly’s birthplace and childhood home) I felt completely inundated by Dolly-mania. She was everywhere, from the guitar-wielding statue on the courthouse lawn to the seasonal labels of my favorite soda. If you drove down the highway fast enough the excessively frequent billboards for Dollywood (her Pigeon Forge theme park) turned into an animated flip-book of her face… I mean, not literally, but that’s how it seemed sometimes. I hated country music and I hated that my home was known for one of country music’s biggest stars. As I grew older I began to appreciate her more as a person. Her foundation does amazing public works for the community, like sending free books to every child and offering college scholarships to local students. Dolly as an individual publicly supports gay marriage and speaks out often on LGBT issues, preaching opinions which are not necessarily popular to promote in the buckle of the Bible belt. I also over time became fascinated by her image: her eccentric fashion sense and her penchant for wigs and plastic surgery. I personally identify with her gluttony for glamour and believe I have experienced, albeit on a much smaller scale, a similar rise to fabulousness from an unlikely cultural starting point. Dolly Parton made it okay for me to sashay around the Smoky Mountain foothills in fake eyelashes and five inch heels.
Q: In another interview you said, “I learned that simply wearing a smaller size wasn’t going to make me less concerned about my perceived flaws. I think this changed the way I thought about my figure. Instead of fixating on things about my body that I didn’t like, I started focusing on things about my body that I did like. I learned to feature my strengths and built my body confidence from there.” Do you have any other advice on this topic than you can offer our readers who struggle with body confidence?
A: One of the greatest things that burlesque has taught me is that everyone is beautiful. Some may be more conventionally attractive than others, but everyone has an allure of some kind to share. When I first started performing I had a lot of body issues. In my first show, in fact, I hadn’t planned to share very much of my body at all. I was part of a group number and I was really more of a featured singer than a stripper. I took a couple of things off, but ended the number mostly clothed. I remember the panic I felt as the emcee started the curtain call and each performer ran to the front of the stage and took off one additional garment. As he neared my name in the line-up I went through a mental checklist of what I was wearing. My mind found a physical flaw that needed to be hidden under each part of my garment. The time came for me to take my bow and I had to make a choice. In a split-second decision I went with the part of my outfit that came off the easiest and ripped open my skirt, exposing my aesthetic Achilles heel to the masses. I waited for a backlash of booing from the audience that never came. In a moment where my brain told me I should be ashamed and embarrassed, my heart felt pure joy. I was free! Whether anyone liked it or not, I had thighs… big ones… and a butt too! The pictures of me from that night are absolutely ridiculous. I was drunk on my own ass. “Dropping trou” in front of 500 people wasn’t an instant cure-all, but it did go a long way in building my body bravery. And the rest eventually followed. An audience doesn’t notice in four minutes the perceived flaws that you’ve had years and years to fixate upon.
Q: Tell me more about the Salomé Cabaret Burlesque Academy – its formation, course offerings, and instructors. What have has the team learned since starting the academy?
A: The Salomé Cabaret Burlesque Academy is an effort started by troupe co-founder Kisa von Teasa and myself in an attempt to expand the burlesque community in our area. Our first group of students was comprised mostly of women wishing to build their self-confidence and supplement their seduction skills, but over time we began to attract students with an active interest in stage performance as well. Eventually the burlesque academy became a pipeline of fresh talent for the troupe. This semester we expanded our instructor staff to include troupe members Tiger Tangerine and Delinda d’Rabbit, offering our students several different points of view on burlesque artistry. Our course and workshop offerings cover standard topics like basic burlesque choreography and boa work as well as more specialized subjects like facial expressions and burlesque disaster recovery. We also work hard to arrange workshops by our special guest performers whenever possible.
Q: Your costumes are all handmade by either you or your mother, who you have described as “your biggest cheerleader” and you said that she “loves being part of the creative process.” Can you tell me about the development of your favorite costume to date? What about the most difficult costuming project so far?
A: When it comes to costuming concepts, the sky is the limit. I never have to ask myself “if” something can be done. I know if I am unable to create something I need for an act my mother, a home economics teacher and professional costumer, will know what to do. We’ve taken on some pretty unusual projects over the years, and enjoy the challenge and the process of creating a unique costume. My favorite costume to date is probably my “Turkey Trot” outfit. I spent hours and hours cutting out hundreds of feather-shaped pieces of fabric plumage. The look on the audience’s faces when I flip up my tail feathers and start shaking my sequin wattle is well worth the time and effort I put into the outfit. The most difficult costume I have taken on to date is my “Boobs” outfit. The concept was simple, but the execution was unexpectedly complicated. This costume too has a lot of hand-made, hand-sewn details including a skirt, top, and hat covered in scores of nipple-colored pastie polka dots. The costume also includes a convertible top that starts as a normal bra and transforms into pendulous knee-length faux-mammaries. We made this costume three or four different times before we found a shape and design that worked for the number.
Q: What’s next for Siren Santina?
A: World Domination.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
A: Yes, I’d like to add that none of this adventure could have been possible without the support and assistance of my friends: John and Dustin Camp and their daughter, James Owens.
Showgirl’s Guide to Seattle
By: Sydni Deveraux
As a Seattle native I’m so excited to share my fair city with you! Seattle hosts one of the largest burlesque communities in the United States, is the birthplace of “grunge” (you remember babydoll dresses and Doc Martens, right?), will have you tasting some of the most incredible coffee, eating the freshest, tastiest fish- and you can’t throw a pebble without hitting a hipster or a hippie. I’ve chosen some great spots in each of our major areas- so let’s begin!
DOWNTOWN SEATTLE: Oh my goodness there’s so much here, so really, I would suggest for you to wander around because you can’t go wrong- the restaurants are copious, there’s tons of boutique shops, and the buskers near Pike Place Market can be incredible.
*Diva Dolls boutique: 624 1st Ave (between Cherry St & Yesler Way), Seattle, WA 98104. This is the place that I would send someone that wants to see dresses, shoes, bags, sparkly jewelry and hosiery all in one- it’s the kind of shop where a lady trying to get an outfit would get the whole shebang in one place. I recommend you really check out the jewelry though- offering lots of unique colors and settings, they have some beautiful Czech crystal necklace and earring sets.
*The Metropolitan Grill: 2nd and Marion- Now, everything you could eat here is divine (seriously, I could rave forever) but I want to send you here for something exquisite and special- its 9 layer chocolate cake! You’re going to need to split it, I’ve tried to tackle it twice only to have to take it home to tackle it again. It’s gooey, chocolatey and GIANT! Delicious!
*Seattle Waterfront’s GREAT WHEEL: 1301 Alaskan Way. The Great Wheel rests on Seattle’s Waterfront, a strange antiquated “touristy” spot hosting restaurants (don’t eat at these! there’s better ones just blocks away!), souvenir shops (postcard or magnet anyone?) and boat tours of the area. Just do the Great Wheel- for 15 plus minutes you’ll get to see the beauty of the Seattle skyline, the area across it- Alki and the harbor with its ships and the mountains across the water. Try to hit it on a clear day- grab a coffee, hop on and then make out with a friend on it too!
*Local 360: Great cocktails, enough said. 1st and Bell
*Any coffee shop that ISN’T Starbucks or Seattle’s Best Coffee- try REAL coffee. I’m a bit of a coffee snob, but seriously- it tastes different….and BETTER!
*Experience Dance Shoes: Shoes. Omg. Shoes. 912 Alaskan Way.
*Seattle Antique’s Market: 1400 Alaskan Way (across from the Aquarium) So….I LOVE antiquing. Tiny teacups, weird pictures, furniture, collectibles- all of it. So I’d be remiss to not mention a couple that I go to periodically. Get a Playboy from your birth month and year here! seriously!
*Antiques at Pike Place: 92 Steward St. This place is a jewelry HAVEN. I enter here and an hour later I’ll leave with new loves in a bag and often new desires left behind. I can’t recommend sauntering through these aisles enough- everything’s so beautiful and shiny!
*Pink Door: 1919 Post Alley (Pike Place Market) This is the venue that I produce Burlesque and Cabaret Behind the Pink Door- and if you’re around on Saturday night and are lucky to get a table (call them!) you can see the best and brightest stars in NW and those passing through shake, shimmy and tease the audience from 11pm-12:15pm. Otherwise though- they have great bartenders, yummy food and an attractive waitstaff….pop by for dinner anytime!
*The Noc Noc: 1516 2nd Avenue This bar/club hosts the Sinner Saint Burlesque Ladies every Thursday night! Consisting of some of the sweetest, most vivacious troupe members in town- this is the spot to see a thematic burlesque show, often with a saucy troupe group act at the very end. Get there early to catch their incredible happy hour (heavy pour!). Perfect for birthdays and large parties! http://www.sinnersaintburlesque.com/
*The Triple Door: A venue that hosts big productions like the Atomic Bombshells and the productions of the wonderful Lily Verlaine (Behind the Looking Glass: A burlesque Alice in Wonderland, Land of the Sweets- the Burlesque Nutcracker), check out their website to see if anything on their calendar tickles your fancy!
*The Can Can: 94 Pike St. This venue and dinner place hosts the Can Can Castaways, a high octane cabaret troupe that has been the house troupe for years. Not burlesque, but you won’t care- the show is upbeat, highly choreographed and you won’t forget the name Johnny Boy after you go!
*Zig Zag Cafe: 1501 Western Avenue. I would be spanked by locals to not make a mention of the place to get a perfect manhattan- they care deeply about their cocktails, and the tucked away nature of the place is perfect for a date on any night!
CAPITOL HILL: This part of town used to be known as the most colorful part of Seattle- walk up and down Broadway for little shops and interesting people watching. In particular though- hit up:
*Miss Indigo Blue’s Academy of Burlesque: 915 E Pine. 2nd Floor of the Oddfellows building. The only burlesque academy in Seattle and one of the most famous in the world, created by Miss Exotic World 2011, the original Twirly Girl, Miss Indigo Blue! Make sure to check out the website for their classes, enroll and enjoy! Featuring basic and advanced classes in movement, twirling, act creation and more!
*Red Light Clothing: 312 Broadway East Seattle WA 98102, (206) 329-2200 This is a proverbial mecca for strange vintage dresses, denim, costume items and more. You could potentially get lost in here for an hour or more!
*Vivace Coffe: Across the way from Red Light- this little hole in the wall kiosk situation is the bees knees for COFFEE. I’ve been going since my mom brought me there for her cup of joe in 1990. Seriously.
*Trendy Wendy: 211 Broadway East. This shop has little club dresses, jewelry and lots of stockings, panties and purses. It’s that store you hit when you’re looking for something flirty, something FLASHDANCE.
*Metro: 231 Broadway East. Looking for latex? A gas mask? Some fetish shoes? Check this place out. There’s stuff for men here too! Check out the store right next to it playing the booming techno too- their jewelry sales are usually worth it.
*Pretty Parlor: 119 Summit Ave E. This place is exactly what it sounds like. I LOVE this place and have never been able to leave empty handed. Cute negligees, one of a kind custom pieces from local designers (Jamie Von Stratton, y’all!), vintage, jewelry all in an ambience that makes you want to have a tea party in it. Go!
*Crypt off Broadway: 1516 11th Avenue. When I was younger, my stepparent managed this place, and when I was 18 I could actually walk into it and OH MY! All the toys, shoes and COSTUME items too (corsets with steel bones, etc.)! Not for the shy or fainthearted. Really.
*Electric Tea Garden: 1402 East Pike. This nightclub is known for bringing some of the best underground DJ’s in and making you dance until 4am. Serves drinks until 2am and then put some bass in your face!
*Dick’s Drive-in: 115 Broadway Ave E. This iconic stop is THE place for a good ‘ol hamburger, fries and milkshake. Inexpensive and tasty- it’s been featured in countless documentary shows mentioning Seattle. You’ll smell the fries from a block away!
QUEEN ANNE: This is a really cute area, and walking up and down Queen Anne avenue will be adorable, but there’s really only 1 place I want to send you in this area….
*Rhinestone Rosie: 606 W. Crockett. This one is off the beaten path but MORE than worth it. Just like the name denotes, THIS IS A STORE DEDICATED TO RHINESTONE JEWELRY. I can’t speak highly enough of this store….gorgeous sets, reasonably priced. She also does restoration!
SODO: South of our sports pavilion are mostly industrial complexes, but a hidden gem awaits!
*Pacific Galleries Antique Mall and Auction House: 241 S. Lander St. This place you could potentially be digging around for the afternoon- no clothes, but tons of jewelry, art, furniture, collectibles, signage and more! I love this space- tea cup shopping has never been so fun!
FREMONT: Prepare to spend a morning or afternoon walking around Fremont. If you do it on a Sunday, you’ll catch their incredible Farmer’s Market- and believe me, it’s so much more than vegetables! Antiques, clothes, jewelry, food….all of it. And after you’ve walked through, go here:
*Fremont Vintage Mall: 3419 Fremont Pl. N. All of the things, people. It has all of the things! I particularly love the handmade jewelry in the lower floors cases, but I’m sure you’ll find something here that you absolutely cannot live without.
*Costas Opa: (across from the Vintage Mall, but on the corner!)- This Greek restaurant is the best in the City. Family owned and cozy….order the flaming cheese!
*Bellefleur Lingerie: 3504 Fremont Place N. Gorgeous lingerie- really, what else makes a lady feel special!
*Revel: 403 N. 36th. A showgirl needs her energy, right? I don’t eat meat anymore, but when I did, I dreamed of this place. Go for me, would you?
There are other areas in Seattle to enjoy, but none so exciting as the ones I’ve named above- if you have rented a car, though- check out West Seattle (the Junction at California in particular) and Ballard (boutiquey shops, great happy hour at Bastille!). Remember- drink our coffee, carry an umbrella, explore, and enjoy! I hope we see you at my show!
Beloved Emcee and costume goddess Cora Vette, owner of Denver’s one stop burlesque shop VaVa Vette, gives us the lowdown on how to create your own custom fashions.
I am turning 40. There, I said it. I have to say, I feel pretty damn good about it! This is about the time when many women start lying about their age. I thought about it, and decided, damn, I’m fabulous and 40. Why would I not want people to know? A friend of mine put it this way: You spend your 20′s screwing up, your 30′s figuring out who you are, and by 40, you have arrived. If this is true, then, I guess I am a creative person who is just a bit crazy and I like it. So there, I will be 40.
I will be spending my 40th birthday at BurlyCon in Seattle. BurlyCon is an annual Burlesque Educational convention and we will there vending some ready to purchase VaVaVette creations all weekend. I figured, what better way to ring in a new decade of burlesque awesomeness than to spend it with fellow burlesquers?
To celebrate my birthday, I decided that I will spend the entire weekend at BurlyCon in leopard print. You know the poem “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple”? I decided that for me it will be “When I grow older I shall wear leopard”. It just seems a little more fun.
So, on to my latest D.I.Y. article: Gauntlet Gloves (leopard of course).
Gauntlet gloves are TONS easier than full fingered gloves and can be whipped up in under a half hour! All you need is some stretch fabric and a sewing machine with a zig zag stitch. For this D.I.Y I used a small scrap of leopard stretch fabric that I had left over from a dress.
Step 1) Fold your fabric, and (without cutting on the side that is folded) cut a rectangle about 17.5 inches long by 5.5 inches wide tapering to a point at around the 15 inch mark. You can actually make these any length, but I like 17.5 to start because it makes a nice over the elbow glove.
Step 2) Cut away a portion of the glove in an arc to narrow the pattern for the wrist area. Experiment with this to find what is best for your own personal fit.
Step 3) Unfold. Your raw piece should look something like this.
Step 4) On the wrong side of the fabric, turn under a hem on the top edge 3/8 inch and use a stretch stitch finish the top. My machine has a special stretch stitch, but any old zig zag will do.
Step 5) Do the same hem on the bottom of the glove. When you reach the middle, turn it again creating a point, pin it in place, and continue the rest of the seam.
Step 6) With the right sides together, stitch the length of the glove in a 5/8 inch seam, or more or less based on your needs.
Step 7) Trim the seam allowance and turn it right side out. Repeat these steps for the other glove. That’s it! You can leave the gloves as is, or, (as I do) sew a loop of elastic at the point to slip over your middle finger to hold it in place.
That’s it! Happy sewing and look for me in these at BurlyCon! I’ll be wearing leopard…
xoxo Cora Vette
Cooking with Kitch Coquette
Bacon Mashed Potatoes
What You Need
4 extra large potatoes that are cut and boiled soft and drained
1 stick of butter
8 oz cream cheese
8 oz sour cream
2 tablespoons of heavy cream
1/2 tsp. of salt
6 slices of cooked bacon (I just cook mine in the microwave when I am out of time).
Preferably a hand-held electric mixer, but a potato masher will also work
What to Do:
1. Put all ingredients (except for the bacon) into the pot with the potatoes.
2. Use your hand-held electric mixer (or your potato masher) to mash the potatoes and incorporate the ingredients. If you use an electric mixer, note that it is possible to over-mix the mashed potatoes, stop mixing once you get the consistency you like for mashed potatoes.
3. Use a pair of scissors to cut the bacon into small pieces right into the pot with the mashed potatoes.
Lillith Grey has been lighting up the stage for over five years as a burlesque and fetish performer, musician, and emcee, and can frequently be found performing in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She holds a master’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in education, and is currently completing her Ph.D. in psychology. She has worked as a psychotherapist, educator, and social justice advocate, and currently teaches at a local university while working on her research. She travels extensively, teaching classes and workshops on a variety of subjects including relationships, communication, trauma, body image, sexuality and gender, and diversity issues. Lillith is also active in the Leather community, serving on the NLA-International Writing Awards committee and as a co-chair for the Women’s International LeatherFest. Visit her at www.LillithGrey.com for more information.
Have a question for our advice columnist? Please title your email “Lillith- _subject___” and send to editor [at] pincurlmag [dot] com
I’ve been in a burlesque troupe for several years and as much as it pains me to say it, I want out. It’s just not as fun as it used to be and group decisions have become increasingly more difficult. I really want to explore performing more as a solo artist, but I have no idea how to bring it up and I know there will be hurt feelings because my troupe mates are also my friends. Any advice on how I can gracefully exit my troupe and maintain the relationships I have with my friends?
Apprehensive in Arizona
What a difficult situation! I know how hard it is to have to make an important decision when you know it might be hurtful to others. It is so important to be deliberate about where we put our energy and effort, and I’m glad you’re paying attention to what you need and where your path is taking you. I am also really glad that you’re attending to the effects of these necessary changes and that you’re willing to be considerate about others. I think that speaks to your good heart, and I would imagine that, deep down, your friends will ultimately realize you’re coming from a genuine place.
The conversation will be difficult, and yes, there will likely be hurt feelings, which can show up in all kinds of ways. They might get angry, they might lash out, they may feel defensive or argumentative, or they may decide to point out all kinds of things that are wrong with you. Try to keep in mind that all of these reactions are manifestations of the deepest emotion, which is hurt. As hard as it is, remember that what happens in the immediate aftermath is not about you, it’s about their experience. Allow the waves to crest, and when the oceans calm, things will be okay.
Here are some tips that might make this a little smoother for you:
Make it about you, not them
The bottom line is that you are leaving because the style of the troupe no longer fits your needs. Even though you might be triggered by various issues in the group, at its core the issue you’re dealing with is that you no longer feel like you fit with the group in a professional way. When you let them know you’re leaving, make sure you’re talking about your experiences and your goals and avoid focusing on what they’re doing wrong. It is perfectly legitimate for you to make a change in your path, and if you can communicate that to them in a way that’s not accusatory or judgmental, they’ll be more likely to support you.
Choose what to say and what to leave unsaid
Of course, you should not be dishonest about your experiences or the reasons you are leaving, but you should try to be gentle and tactful. It is not necessary for you to tell them all their flaws and the reasons why it’s hard to work with them. It’s not your responsibility to fix the things that are wrong. If you feel like your troupe is receptive to feedback and could handle some constructive advice, you might be able to be more straightforward with your reasons for leaving. Communication is a two-way street, though, and if you’re working with people whom you know to be defensive and resistant, trying to have a blunt conversation may create more problems. Give them the respect of your honesty, but be deliberate in choosing how much to reveal and how to present it to them.
Be clear with them
It is a terrible feeling to find out something that affects you through Facebook or Twitter posts, or through a third person who isn’t involved. When you make the decision, let them know directly so they’re not surprised. Avoid being vague or wishy-washy – if you’re leaving, don’t tell them you’re just taking a break, or sort of disappear. Let them know what’s going on with you. These are your friends and they care about you, so be up front with them.
Don’t assume they know anything you haven’t directly told them. Everyone sees the world through a different lens, so what you think is obvious may not be understood by them. What one person sees as unimportant may feel really big to another person. If you aren’t sure you’re being understood, ask.
Prepare for the conversation
Don’t text them this news. Email is also a bad idea, both because of the absence of non-verbal information, but also because this kind of thing needs a back-and-forth dialogue. Plan a good time to have the conversation, and have it with as many of them as you can as close to the same time as possible. If you’re doing it by phone, call them all on the same day. If you’re doing it at a meeting, make sure you do it when there’s time to have the conversation and it won’t feel rushed. Make sure you’re in a comfortable place, on neutral ground, with some measure of privacy.
If it’s helpful, write down what you want to say so that you can say things deliberately. It’s okay to read a letter out loud – sometimes that’s the easiest way, and can give you something tangible to lean on in a tough moment. Or, you can make bullet points and just check in with your list as you talk to make sure you’ve covered what you need to cover. Even if writing isn’t helpful, having a clear sense of what you want to say and how you want to say it will help things go more smoothly.
Be patient with their reactions
They may be hurt, they may be angry, and they may be defensive. These are normal reactions and they don’t mean your friends don’t love you. Expect some backlash at first, and be ready to address it. When they feel hurt, acknowledge it and try to be understanding. Just because someone feels hurt doesn’t necessarily mean you did something wrong, but they are still experiencing hurt, and you can be still be supportive of their feelings.
Also, recognize that strong reactions are not reflective of how things will ultimately work out. If harsh words are exchanged, make sure to revisit them when things are smoother. Try not to take personally things that are said in the heat of the moment. Ruptures in relationships happen all the time, and repairing them is often what makes your relationships deeper and more meaningful. Don’t lose sight of the long term when you’re in the midst of a difficult time in your relationships.
Continue to support them
Keep posting their flyers, promoting their shows, liking their posts, going to their performances, and so forth. Hearing someone no longer wants to work with you is hard, and they might feel like you’re leaving them behind. Continuing to be enthusiastically supportive of them will demonstrate that you are still there for them and you still care.
And of course, don’t talk shit about them. When people ask why you left the group, do not go into gory detail about everything that went wrong. Figure out a way to answer that question honestly but, again, make it about you. “I am focusing on a solo career now” is not dishonest, but it’s also not revealing too much private stuff. They will hear about it if you’re saying negative things, and what they need most from you in a difficult time is your support and good wishes.
I know this is a rough process and I wish you the best of luck. Having difficult conversations can be very intense, but very rewarding on the other side. I definitely support your efforts to move forward on your burlesque path, and I also wholeheartedly support your efforts to maintain good relationships and avoid drama. Stay focused on the positive and take care of yourself!
Self Selection & Burlesque
By: Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
I have done a couple of interviews about my work on a couple different shows, and it always comes down to the same questions.
“Why do you enjoy the burlesque world?” ”Why do you think it has a benefit for you as a disabled performer?”
These are the questions asked of me as a burlesque historian and a legally blind performer.
The answer is in self selecting casting. In theater, I was always cast as either a little girl, or an evil person. Only once did I get to play a young woman in love. Only once did I get to do that. The first role I ever played was Caliban – the monster in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In retrospect many people have suggested that perhaps this was inappropriate casting for a young girl with a cataracted eye.
At an Oxford University summer program, I played Cassius in Julius Caesar. I was cast to embody the evil manipulator, and part of the way my director had me play that manipulation out on stage was to have Cassius pretend to be a blind man. In character, the motivation worked, however I now recognize that in playing Cassius in this way I was reinforcing stereotypes about disabled people.
Disability can be challenging to incorporate into traditional narratives, especially in live theater, and I wanted to simply portray a character without having to adapt said character to potential perceptions about my own physicality. I’ve portrayed witches, and old women, and I have played the tortured and angry Betty Parris, who during the Salem Witch Trials contributed toward the deaths of many innocent women – but until burlesque, I never felt like I was playing a person I wanted to play. Nobody would cast me as an impassioned youthful romantic lead like Juliet. Nobody would cast me as Marian the Librarian. Creating my own opportunities became my best chance at embodying characteristics not normally associated with disabled individuals.
Frequently there is no director for a burlesque show – and when there is, they are asking for proposals on what performers would like to do in their shows. So through that process we choose what characters we embody. I no longer have to portray the evil character because someone told me to, but rather, I get to choose. When Whedonesque Burlesque called, I was able to self select a character whom I wanted to play – and it wasn’t a vampire. I suggested three options, and the one my producer decided that we should pursue, was that of Kaylee – the spunky, yet skilled mechanic from Joss Whedon’s Firefly. I wanted to play Kaylee because I felt like she and I had more in common than many of the other characters. I wanted to demonstrate her sweetness, and her love for her ship. Most importantly, I wanted to have fun – and in regular theater, I rarely got to play fun roles.
There’s a lot of power in being able to say who you want to play, and there’s a lot of power in being able to say who you want to be. The empowerment comes from being able to stake a claim in our own lives – something which especially for women has been a challenge since the self-determination became an option in Western society.
Which is why this isn’t just an advantage for those of us with disabilities, but for everyone. Many people can benefit from being able to self select who they play on stage. Performers in theater have roles they would love to play, but would never be given the chance because of what they look like. Perhaps you’re considered too heavy, or too old. Perhaps you think you have the right spirit, but your director doesn’t agree. Self selecting roles is both a way to validate yourself, and a way to show the world that you are something others do not necessarily see.
The downside to self-selection is when those selections are inappropriate. When people put on a race that is not their own, or a disability which they do not live with, or for that matter a mental illness which they do not possess – then it becomes problematic. People feel that because they can choose to become anyone at all, they can do so without judgment. However, because self-selection requires us to look within, we also must look without. Commonly, blackface is verboten, putting on another race is considered inappropriate and wrong. Using another culture is called cultural appropriation. Why is it then, that performers do not see the same taboo in playing disabilities and illnesses which they do not live with? A partial answer is that for many, it is likely that disability does not appear as a culture in our society. But it is one for many. Deaf culture is very much alive and active in the United States. There are conferences for the visually impaired once a year, and countless organizations for the blind. Wheelchair conventions and even a reality TV show about women who use wheelchairs exist. Disability comes with a set of differences, sometimes a shared sense of humor, and often a sense of solidarity. While it isn’t a culture with specific geographical ties, it is a diverse social group from physical handicap, to invisible illness, to mental health. Consider that your actions in costume do reflect individuals for whom the costume is reality.
It’s also a matter of wording. There are a lot of shows now that use the word “sideshow” or “freakshow”. One of the problems with this is the history of that genre. Sideshows were once a place where disabled individuals could find work – where they were able to make money exploiting their often extreme or unconventional differences. The gaze of the sideshow audience was able bodied individuals looking at the Other, not about performing the Other for able bodied people. It’s problematic when able bodied people take over the sideshow space, because it becomes about able bodied people labeling themselves as “freaks” in an attempt to create the same shock value once used to exploit the disabled. But the thing is, most of the characters in contemporary freakshows are snake handlers, blockheads, and other shock value related acts. These performers weren’t born with their sideshow character – they trained to become a freak. In doing so, they appropriated a disabled space.
I suppose my issue isn’t with the idea of reclaiming the sideshow space for disabled performers – because for me, I’m not interested in being objectified because I am different. I never want to be stared at because I am disabled – so why on earth would able bodied people want to take on the space of the sideshow? Why can’t that space be left for those who wish to reclaim it? Call it something else. Keep doing your snake handling, your nail eating and your fire breathing – just don’t link it to the historical incidence of financially abusing those who can do nothing but. The reason I say this is that with an able bodied freakshow, it becomes more challenging to create the space wherein disabled performers can reclaim a space of sideshow performance. Whether or not you believe it is a space to be reclaimed, that space needs to be one left to those for whom reclamation would be important, not for those whose reclaiming really becomes like stealing.
In modern film and theater able bodied actors have played disabled characters with great success, but where does that leave the disabled performers? It would certainly be nice if when they produced “The Miracle Worker” on Broadway, they’d used the visually impaired actress as their main Helen Keller, with the perfectly sighted actress being the understudy. It would be lovely, if instead of Artie on Glee being able to walk, they had used a teenaged actor who uses a wheelchair in real life. I don’t think that able bodied people shouldn’t play these characters when they have time to study for them, but in burlesque we have a problem. Your audience doesn’t get to spent hours with you, watching the development of your character. They have five minutes. In those five minutes they see what you give them, and sometimes that’s not enough to develop your character. We have to be thoughtful about how much we can get across in a single act. Sure, people have won Oscars based on their performances playing disabled people – but they spent months in character, they spent hours training with real people. And I suspect they asked a lot of questions. The point is, putting on a disability is like taking away the ability to explore that space as a performer from someone who actually has it. So often these performances in burlesque are about creating shock. For me, it’s about demonstrating beauty in a place where most people do not see it. For me it’s about showing that disability can be sexy – without being fetish. I want to be able to do an act as a disabled burlesque performer without it being “edgy” but that will never be the case so long as able bodied burlesque performers are stepping into that space and creating shock wherever they go.
Self selection is a wonderful thing, but with it comes a great responsibility to care for one another. It is this precise self selection which makes burlesque a viable and important art form, but if we abuse self selection, where does that leave us?
For more of Elsa’s work, see her blog: Feminist Sonar.